Paul Hartal

An Enduring Enigma - Poem by Paul Hartal

One summer night the skies turned so luminescent
that people in London could plainly read
their newspapers at midnight without artificial

Thousands of miles away, Semen Semenov,
a farmer in the Krasnoyarsk region of central Siberia
saw an enormous fire appearing in the sky,
high and wide over the boreal forest,
and then a muffled thump came and he was thrown
a few yards. There was terrifying loud noise
that sounded like cannon thunder and the earth shook.

At the same time Russian settlers and Evenki natives
in the hills near Lake Baikal observed a colossal pillar
of bright bluish light moving across the firmament
followed by a flash and the sound of massive artillery
fire. In other locations, closer to the mysterious
fireball, the shock waves knocked people off their feet.
The shock waves also broke windows
hundreds of kilometers away from the center of the blast.

I have seen old arial photographs of the explosion scene
in which the impact-felled trees lying parallel
to each other looked like oversized chopsticks,
charred or treated with some sort of overboiled
bulgogi marinade. The detonation tumbled and
flattened the woods. The blown-down trees
in the demolished forests turned away
from the center of the explosion, lying on the ground
en masse, in an eery pattern of profuse symmetry,
like vast spokes in a mammoth wheel,
with their roots facing the center of the blast.

It was 7: 14 a.m., June 30,1908,
when Semonov witnessed the raging inferno
of what scientists call the Tunguska event.
He was about 65 kilometers from ground zero
of the gigantic blast whose effects had rippled
beyond Siberia, reaching Central Asia
as well as Northern Europe.
The epicenter of the explosion lay in an uninhabited
area of taiga forest where the ground is frozen
for most of the year. The blast occurred in the air
above the taiga.

Scientists analyzed the seismic waves triggered by
the Tunguska event and estimate that the energy
released by the explosion reached up to 15 megatons
in magnitude, which amounts to the magnitude
of 1000 Hiroshima atomic bombs combined.
On the night of 30 June 1908 and the following
three nights aurora glows were observed
in northern Europe attributed to the Tunguska event.

But what caused this astounding colossal explosion?
A group of astronomers, among them Lincoln LaPaz,
have suggested that the Tunguska explosion
was the result of the annihilation of a piece
of antimatter falling onto the Earth from outer space.
Others, for example, conspiracy theorist
Surendra Verma linked the Tunguska fireball mystery
with an early wireless transmission tower designed
by Nikola Tesla and built in Shoreham, New York,
in 1901-2.

Some castle-builders also have claimed
that an alien civilization bombed the earth,
or that one of the aliens’ nuclear powered ships
attempted to land in Siberia but exploded
over the boreal forest without touching ground.
The list of explanations also includes
an astrophysical theory, according to which
a miniature black hole penetrated the Earth’s
atmosphere and exploded.

However, the scientific consensus relegates
the Tunguska event to the wanderings of space
debris. Asteroids, comets and meteoroids are
plentiful in the solar system and it seems that one
of these spece debris not only ventured not only
very close to the Earth but actually penetrated
its atmosphere and blew up above the taiga
just before hitting the ground. It is estimated that
this stray space debris weighed
around a million tons and was 100 to 200 meters
in diameter.

At any event, the puzzling incident
of the Tunguska blast remains an enduring enigma.

Topic(s) of this poem: mystery, science

Form: Prose Poem

Poet's Notes about The Poem

For further reading:

John Baxter, Thomas Atkins, “The Fire Came By: The Riddle of the Great Siberian Explosion”, London: Macdonald and Jane’s,1975

Luca Gasperini, Enrico Bonatti and Giuseppe Longo “The Tunguska Mystery”, article in “Scientific American”, June 30,2008

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, March 28, 2015

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